The Lift Zones in low-income communities will provide free Wi-Fi for three years. Photo via comcast.com

Comcast is giving a technology lift to thousands of people throughout the Houston metro area.

The media and tech giant says it has started 50 WiFi-equipped "Lift Zones" at community centers across the region. These zones enable low-income students and their families to take advantage of free internet service. The centers will enjoy access to free WiFi for three years.

Among the local organizations hosting Lift Zones are BakerRipley, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, the Tejano Center for Community Centers, the City of Houston, Harris County, and the City of Galveston.

"The COVID-19 crisis put many at risk of being left behind, accelerating the need for comprehensive digital equity and internet adoption programs to support them. We hope these Lift Zones will help those who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to connect to effective distance learning at home," Ralph Martinez, regional senior vice president of Comcast Houston, says in a news release.

In December, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Comcast announced establishment of nine Lift Zones at city-operated community centers. These were the first Life Zones to be installed in the Houston area. The nine locations are:

  • Acres Homes Multi-Service Center.
  • DeZavala Community Center.
  • Emancipation Community Center.
  • Hartman Community Center.
  • Kashmere Multi-Service Center.
  • Magnolia Multi-Service Center.
  • Melrose Community Center.
  • Southwest Multi-Service Center.
  • Third Ward Multi-Service Center.

"The pandemic has underscored the need for students to have internet access to support their education and not fall behind in the classroom. Parents must also have options that work for them," Turner said in a December news release.

At no cost, Comcast outfits each Lift Zone location with a WiFi setup powered by Comcast Business. At each site, users can tap into a combination of Comcast Business' internet, WiFi Pro and SecurityEdge offerings.

Lift Zones complement Comcast's Internet Essentials program, which has helped connect about 10 million low-income Americans to the internet at home, including nearly 1 million Texans.

According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one-fourth of adults with annual household income below $30,000 don't own a smartphone, while about four in 10 lack home broadband services or a desktop or laptop computer. In March, President Biden signed legislation providing more than $3 billion in subsidies to boost broadband access in low-income areas.

Comcast recently unveiled a $1 billion, 10-year commitment to support digital equity, including the Lift Zones initiative. The initiative, introduced in September, aims to establish WiFi-connected safe spaces at more than 1,000 community centers nationwide for students and adults by the end of 2021.

"For nearly a decade, Internet Essentials has helped to change the lives of millions of people by providing low-income families with internet access at home," Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, said in a September news release. "These Lift Zones, which will be installed in community centers in local neighborhoods that our partners have identified and will run, will be places where students and families can get online and access the resources they need, especially while so many schools and workplaces have gone virtual."

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

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A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.